Backlash against criminalising the Israel boycott

25th Jan 2019
Backlash against criminalising the Israel boycott

(Photo: Carlos Latuff/Wiki Commons)

First, it was Holocaust Denial Laws then the broadening of anti-Semitism to include virtually any criticism of Israel. Increasingly attempts are being made to criminalise anyone supporting the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign aimed to end the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands.

In the US, it is reported that no less than 26 states have already enacted anti-BDS laws, with legislation pending in 13 more, while on a federal scale an attempt has temporarily been blocked by the Senate.

Historically, pro-Israel bills sail through both houses on Capitol Hill. Yet the very first Bill the new US Senate considered in 2019 failed. It was supported by 56 to 44, falling short of the 60 votes needed to advance what would be another controversial law. It had nothing to do with ending the emergency partial shutdown of Government but everything to punish companies that choose not to do business with Israel or Israeli-owned enterprises.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations has filed lawsuits targeting new state laws, including in Texas and Maryland. The American Civil Liberties Union has also announced that it has filed a legal challenge to the law on behalf of four Texans who had either lost their jobs because of the law or were “forced” to sign it against their beliefs to keep their income.

The immediate reason for the Bill’s defeat was the shutdown itself with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer apparently refusing to pass anything until the Government is reopened. But the controversy that surrounded it also speaks to the larger concerns in the US about how state-level anti-BDS laws, which can apply to individuals working as independent contractors, have been used to repress free speech rights.

It comes at a time when support for Israel, so long a bipartisan issue, is becoming polarised, with Republicans said to be willing to back Israel virtually unconditionally while Democrats are more willing to question Israeli policy and US support for it. It seems ironic that the wide use of sanctions against other countries by the US is not considered applicable when it comes to Israel.

The BDS movement dates back to 2005, seeking to support the Palestinians through legitimate means. It aims for companies to stop doing business in Israel, consumers to stop buying Israeli products, and academics and cultural figures to stop collaborating with Israeli colleagues. The movement is seen akin to the successful boycotts targeting apartheid South Africa in the 1980s but because of its success, it is being proclaimed as a supposed anti-Semitic.

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